Life on Retreat
This last week I have had five days of glorious retreat. Waking early to practice, breakfast then a walk with the dogs. They can’t walk too far now as they are getting older. A bit more practice, listen to a teaching and then a final practice session, followed by dinner and an evening listening to an audio book and sewing my tapestry. Lots of space and time for the mind to settle and for me to observe what’s happening.
In my practice I return a lot to Tilopa’s six words of advice. As is my usual habit I find myself drawn into thinking about the future and so I gently remind myself to ‘Let be what may happen in the future’, knowing that I can trust my future self to deal with whatever it is that actually does happen.
I also find myself commenting and trying to make sense of what actually is happening in my practice. When I recognise this more subtle thinking, I gently remind myself ‘No need to figure anything out’, knowing that I can trust my mind to reveal whatever it is that needs to be recognised or understood in it’s own good time. Thinking about what is happening will only block the process of insight.
Sometimes I recognise subtle feelings of disappointment about what is happening in my practice. I recognise a desire for something different to be happening, something a bit more enlightened. When I recognise this feeling, an even more subtle level of thinking, I gently remind myself that there is ‘No need to make anything happen’, knowing that the meditation will happen by itself if my practice can create the causes and conditions for meditation to occur. So, I refocus on my breath once again and with this as my anchor open my awareness to the whole of my experience, as best as I can allowing my experience to be as it is.
When I feel my mind is settling in meditation, I notice a subtle excitement, but also a subtle fear. Excitement that I seem to be getting it right. Fear of what the meditation might reveal. When I recognise this I remind myself of some advice from my teacher Lama Yeshe Rinpoche, ‘Don’t try and build a wall’. All this thinking is building a wall, which blocks the natural flow of experience. According to my limited understanding of meditation, this is what practice is. Allowing thoughts, emotions and feelings to flow through my awareness undisturbed. In this way they will arise by themselves, display all that needs to be known about them and then dissolve. This creates the conditions for insight to arise, part of an ongoing process of becoming more familiar with the mind. Somehow, I find it endlessly fascinating and my curiosity grows.
If you are in need of some retreat time in the space between Christmas and New Year, then Kristine has kindly offered to share her mid-winter Christmas retreat days with those who wish to attend online. As a Christmas gift to our members and to the Everyone Project, then cost to attend online for the day is just £5 and the fee will be donated by us to the Everyone Project. I am delighted to be facilitating the online group on Friday 27 December (and possibly also Saturday 28th and Sunday 29th). I am looking forward to sitting this day of retreat led by Kristine, with her group in Edinburgh and with the group online. We can all find a quiet space, get out our laptops and practice together.
So I had an enjoyable period of retreat, much needed after a busy and turbulent second half of 2019. Now my retreat turns into holiday, with festive Christmas, New Year and Birthday celebrations with family.
I was thinking what I could share this week that might be of support over this festive season. I know some of us will have time alone. Some of us will have time with family and friends and it might not always be easy. We may be dreading having to spend time with some of our so-called ‘difficult’ people, however much we love them! I have always found loving kindness practice to be a good preparation for these times. Have a go at the different loving kindness practices on our free Mindfulness Based Living app and towards the end say some of the phrases for your ‘difficult’ person. Be open to feelings of kindness or possibly a whole mix of other emotions and see what unfolds. I have found that this practice often generates some understanding for the ‘difficult’ person, but at least reminds me of my intention to be kind. Then when I do see this person, something somehow shifts and things go much smoother than I had anticipated. Try it and see what happens?
My daughter has been with me for the last few days and has been teasing me on our dog walks about how I shock people by smiling and saying hello to them when we pass them on the beach. I have always done this and think it is to do with my upbringing in a village in Northern England where most people knew each other. It was just polite to smile and possibly also say hello as you walked past someone. I continue in this habit now as part of my practice of being a kindness ninja, by trying to sneak an act of kindness into my life at any opportunity. Sometimes people are surprised if I smile at them, but more often than not they return the smile on a face that often before was quite miserable. My belief is that they may then pass the smile on to the next person they see, and so on!
I notice my reaction/response when I smile at someone I pass and they give me what I perceive to be a ‘dirty look’. Then I smile at myself, recognising my conditionality – expecting a smile in return – and resolving for the smiles I offer to be unconditional.
At least it makes me happy.
I wish you all a wonderful festive period, whatever it brings.